12 Unspoken Rules for Communicating in the Remote Workplace
With remote and hybrid work arrangements becoming increasingly commonplace, more and more professionals are coming face-to-face with the fact that their old methods of communication don’t always transfer to the digital workplace. But while learning and adapting to various forms of online communication may seem at first to be a straightforward task, it can sometimes be a challenge, especially for those who are used to and more comfortable with meeting in person.
Between the lack of body language, unclear expectations surrounding response times, and connection-related delays in synchronous meetings, challenges related to digital communication can quickly multiply and lead to troubles with productivity and teamwork. A February 2021 study from My Perfect Resume found that among more than 1,000 remote workers, a whopping 80% had experienced conflict in the workplace, and 46% of the time, the conflict played out over a work messaging app. Another 37% of respondents reported experiencing conflict in a video conference.
Despite how widespread the problem can be, there are ways to mitigate the risk of conflict in the digital workplace. Here are 12 important, yet frequently unspoken, rules about healthy communication when working from home:
1. Respect your colleagues’ work hours.
With flexible schedules becoming more prevalent and team members increasingly working across various time zones, remote workers may find that their colleagues aren’t online during the same hours as them. Check coworkers’ hours before scheduling meetings so you can ensure you find a time slot that works for both parties.
2. Use out-of-office messages.
If your coworkers don’t follow the advice in No. 1 and like to shoot you emails and texts at all hours, try setting an “out-of-office” message to let colleagues know you won’t be responding right away. You may also disable notifications during your off hours to help ensure a healthy work-life balance.
3. Choose the right communication channel.
Make sure the channel you’re using to communicate matches the information you are conveying. Use texts for quick, simple messages; emails for longer, slightly more complex messages and formal communications; and video calls for complex, nuanced discussions. Practicing this strategy will ensure your colleagues don’t receive long, convoluted text messages and can help teams avoid wasting time on video calls when all that’s needed is a simple yes or no.
4. Include all relevant information.
Make sure that all the information relevant to your message is easily accessible to the person you’re communicating with. For example, if you’re asking a colleague a question about this quarter’s strategic plan, include a link to the document in your correspondence. Don’t assume that the other person has all the information you have, or you may find yourself answering dozens of follow-up questions.
5. Don’t overuse emojis.
Because tone can often be misunderstood in written communication like texts and emails, it’s usually acceptable to use emojis sparingly in messages to colleagues within your company. However, adding a happy face after every sentence is not only unprofessional, but may also be annoying to your colleagues.
6. Don’t swear or use offensive language.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but more than two dozen who spoke with My Perfect Resume back in February said they had been cursed at or insulted by a coworker in a work message. This is always unprofessional; thankfully, communication methods used in remote work environments are often asynchronous, meaning both parties often have a chance to cool off and think over their responses before hitting send.
7. Slow down and reread all written communication.
This applies to both messages received and messages sent. Prevent miscommunication before it happens by making sure you understand and aren’t missing anything in the messages you receive. Likewise, show your attention to detail by taking the time to ensure your messages are easy to understand, professional in tone, and grammatically correct before you hit send.
8. Build face-to-face relationships.
When possible and practical, meet up with colleagues face-to-face, either in person or in a video call. While hopping on a video chat doesn’t always work as a day-to-day communication method, regular video conferences can provide opportunities for more in-depth conversations and help you get to know your colleagues better, even when you’re working time zones apart.
9. Prepare for video meetings like you would if it was in-person.
While it may be convenient to show up to your video meetings looking like you just rolled out of bed, it’s not a smart career move. When working remotely, your image on the video call is all your colleagues see. Make sure you present yourself in the way you want them to think of you.
10. Ensure you have adequate Wi-Fi speed.
There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to conduct a video meeting with someone whose audio and video keep cutting out. Ensure you have adequate internet speeds so you don’t leave your colleagues hanging. In some cases, you may even be able to get a stipend from your employer to help cover the cost of broadband.
11. Keep your video on as much as possible.
If you’re having a video meeting, then everyone should be on video. Talking to black boxes is intimidating, at best, so whenever possible, make sure you have your camera on and that you’re fully engaged in the meeting. If seeing one another face-to-face isn’t necessary, try a conference call instead of a Zoom.
12. Watch your pace.
Synchronous remote communication is often characterized by a delay. Be mindful of this and try to pace conversations on video and phone calls so you are not constantly talking over other people.
Workplace conflicts didn’t originate with remote work; however, the nature of the virtual work environment poses unique communication challenges that can sometimes make way for hostility among remote teams. By applying a few simple rules and focusing on maintaining a professional attitude in all forms of communication, many of these challenges can be mitigated or eliminated altogether, leaving you to enjoy pleasant and productive relationships with your remote coworkers, despite the lack of in-person interaction.